Kenya is not a safe country. The Africa Organised Crime Index 2023 Report showed that Kenya ranked second in the criminal market. Aside from concerns about human trafficking, grand theft, drug use, or financial crimes, there is a growing need for more security. This is especially true for women. In January 2024 alone, at least 12 women have been killed in femicide cases, making it a national crisis. In 2023, Africa Uncensored counted 75 victims. However, due to unreported incidents, the numbers may be higher.
What exactly is femicide?
Femicide is intentional gender-related killing. According to UN Women, for the killing of a woman or girl to be considered femicide, the murder is done because of her gender or the role she was playing. This can come as a result of power imbalances, sexism, and unsafe cultures. For instance, women can be killed for rejecting sexual advances, for taking gifts or rejecting them, for consenting, withdrawing consent, or denying it.
Some key facts about femicide are:
1. The risk comes from those closest to women and girls
2022 had the highest number of reported femicide cases globally. About 50,000 women died from intimate partner violence and harm from family members. On average, 133 women and girls die every day at the hands of a man they trust. The highest number of femicides are caused by husbands and boyfriends. Strangers cause the third-highest femicides. The rest are attributed to friends, ex-spouses, and family members.
2. Africa is the most affected
Femicide is a global problem that affects women from all demographics. However, there are areas where women are more vulnerable. Africa records the largest number of femicide victims. In 2022, there were 20,000 victims. At least 3 in every 100,000 women are killed by people they’re intimate with.
3. The most vulnerable women
In North America and Australia, Indigenous women are among the most vulnerable to femicide. However, there isn’t enough comprehensive data in other parts of the world. This is because politically famous women are targeted as frequently as poor women. Women experiencing gender-based violence in relationships may be the most likely to become victims of femicide. In Kenya, Nairobi, Kiambu, and Nakuru counties have the highest femicide cases.
4. Unreported deaths show there are likely higher femicide numbers
Four in ten intentional murders of women and girls don’t provide enough information to confirm that the killings were gender-related. Often, the only femicide cases that are reported are the ones where a partner or father killed a woman or girl. One of the most alarming recent cases, a JKUAT student, Rita Waeni was beheaded and dismembered after a stay in a short-stay apartment in Roysambu. Her head was recovered in Kiambaa, Kiambu County. Her body was stuffed in bags and the caretaker of the apartments discovered them the following morning along with bloody sheets.
Another reported case from 2024 is the death of a 25-year-old mother of 3 from Kilifi only identified as Malkia. She was found in her home where she was believed to live with her lover who fled the scene and is still currently on the run.
The other notable instance of femicide in 2024 is the death of Starlet Wahu which revealed serial extortionist and murder suspect John Matara. He posed as a master’s student from Kenyatta University and invited women to his apartment where he would then abuse them, keep them against their will, and extort money from them. He’s been involved in over 10 cases of luring women with dating apps and then getting money from them through force. Starlet Wahu was his last victim before his arrest. The police revealed that she died of excessive bleeding.
Why Kenyan women are marching against femicide
On January 27th, 2024, Kenyan women and allies marched against femicide in different parts of the country. The march was organised primarily by Usikimye—an organisation that advocates for survivors and victims of gender-based violence. 151 human rights and feminist groups also participated.
The march, which had one of the largest turnouts nationwide, advocated for women, ensuring that their gender doesn’t become a death sentence. This march advocated for femicide to be included in the country’s Penal Code as a distinct crime. Women also want President William Ruto to declare femicide a national emergency and a threat to national security. Women also advocate for Interior CS Kithure Kindiki and Gender CS Aisha Jumwa to take action. Thus far, Kenyan leaders have taken disappointing stances concerning supporting women. Nairobi Women’s Rep Esther Passaris didn’t respond well to criticisms of the inactions of her office. She was booed by march attendees asking, “Where were you?”. Some news media also erroneously credited her with leading the march.
Murang’a Women’s Rep Sabina Chege, victim blamed by releasing a statement. She suggested that young girls and women need counselling to stop relying on men to “get to the top”. Yet, the data shows that women are predominantly killed by husbands and boyfriends with a history of domestic violence.
How to tackle femicide
There are better actionable ways to reduce cases of femicide. They include:
- Preventing violence against women and girls by funding women’s rights organisations, challenging sexist beliefs, and having proper emergency response systems for victims of abuse.
- Driving policy change in institutions to ensure better safety of women. For example, England has Claire’s Law which enables women to access a potential partner’s history of abuse. Another change includes the decriminalisation of sex work.
- Providing essential survivor support and services like safety shelters.
- Governments and institutions should invest more in preventing violence against women and girls. This includes community sensitization about issues like domestic abuse and why it should stop. Also education on women’s rights and that men are not owed anything by women.
- Clamping down misogynistic rhetoric on social media.
- Ensuring justice isn’t delayed for victims of gender-based violence and femicide.
- Harsh penalties for domestic abuse and long sentences for those committing femicide.
Until all women are safe, action must be taken.
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